The Story of the Young Coneys’ Summer Project

This August, the Young Coneys joined us for three whole days on a Summer Project. Over a weekend of creative workshops, they made a playable experience for grown-ups, and went on a day trip to Polesden Lacey National Trust where they helped Phoebe the Apprentice Ranger with her missions. Read on for the story of the weekend, written by Toby Peach (who led the workshop along with Coney Associate Tom Bowtell).

Day 1 – Phoebe the Apprentice Ranger at Polesden Lacey

After successfully navigating collecting 10 young people from 2 different locations we boarded the train and made our way towards Leatherhead. We were taking The Young Coneys to see a piece of interactive theatre made by Coney for young families, Phoebe the Apprentice Ranger. It is also the first time we have taken the Young Coneys on a trip and some of them have brought fizzy drinks!

After the weeks of sun that have proceeded, we stepped out in Leatherhead to a downpour. This would be the theme for the day.

We made our way up to Polesden Lacey, the National Trust property where I have, along with a brilliant team, been making this adventure over the past 3 weeks. It’s a lovely setting and has acres of beautiful countryside to explore…when it isn’t pouring with rain.

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Phoebe meets her new recruits at set times but we weren’t waiting long before she welcomed us to her HQ for the day. This meeting takes place outside and The Young Coneys braved the rain under their umbrellas as Phoebe told us our mission for the day; we would be heading out into the (wet) wild on 9 different missions to try and help Phoebe to get a job as a full-time ranger by impressing her boss Lenny and show him that young people do like being out in the countryside. We separated into 2 different groups and chose which missions we would be undertaking. If we completed them we potentially could become Apprentice Rangers too. Armed with our umbrellas, we walked out into the downpour to help our new friend Phoebe.

First up, for my group, was a trip to the Bird Hide, where we found Phoebe’s boss Lenny spotting birds. I was in a team with 4 girls; Debbie, Ola, Blessaide and Mia, who quizzed Lenny on what his favourite bird was and why birds have different names before taking a bird survey for him. After impressing Lenny with our knowledge and, with a gap in the rain, we marched off across the fields towards WoodDen Wood to find our next activity. Under a tree canopy, a welcomed treat, we found the activity sign post, which asked us to build the best den we could to impress Lenny. The girls got straight into it, Ola was very keen on building a fireplace before we had a roof, just in case we got cold! We took inspiration from some of the other dens in the forest and built a fairly impressive Den, which had a pathway leading to it, space for 4 and, of course, a fireplace.

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Lenny in the Bird Hide © Eddie Hyde Photography ARPS

We quickly stopped by the Chalk Pit to spot any butterflies we could see. The Grizzled Skipper was our particular target but alas the rain meant there were very few around, so we moved on towards Len’s View. Len’s View involved looking over the best view in Polesden Lacey and is a spot to be thankful. Blessaide, making her return to the Young Coneys for the first time in 6 months, thanked Coney for inviting her back, a particularly nice moment to hear before all 4 of them were instructed to stand on top of the benches and declare their thanks to the land – by shouting THANK YOU across the valley.

The clouds were forming but we had a time specific mission to undertake so we made our way down into the valley just at the rain began to come down – seeking shelter under the trees the group kept their spirits up by singing Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. The weather was beginning to get pretty bad but knowing we had to meet Lenny at for a mission at 2pm we took our chance as a break in the clouds allowed us to make it to the next covering of trees. However, the break in the weather didn’t last for long… we met Lenny in Lion’s Copse, hoping to discover if the woodland was in fact Ancient Woodland but, after attempting to huddle under the trees with our umbrellas as extra shelter, the sideways rain was too much. So, with four 10-year-olds and Lenny, the Ranger, we made a dash for it through the, soon to be discovered, ancient woodland towards cover. The weather was both atrocious and marvelous as the wind swirled and rain pelted us as we all sprinted through the trees. As a theatre maker who makes experiences, it was the most incredible moment – perhaps not the one I had wanted to make this time but, as we made it to the shelter and all of us were drenched head to toe, I couldn’t help thinking how brilliant it was. Fortunately, I was with a group who embraced the madness of the situation. Though cold and soaked they got on with the day and sang Lenny a version of Three Little Birds.

We waited for 45 minutes as the rain continued to fall before making our way up towards the house. This involved a walk that we likened to that of a robot, where we tried to walk without the wet trousers touching our skin any more than it needed to! Our wet walk up was rewarded with Hot Chocolates upon arrival to warm us up, as we found the other group similarly DRENCHED. The Young Coneys, after the hot drinks, rallied though as we went to see Phoebe’s final review, where Lenny was due to decide whether she could have a permanent job as a Ranger. Phoebe made a passionate case and showcased all of the missions the young people had undertaking, through all the rain, to show how young people can be rangers, and Lenny was thoroughly impressed. He spoke of how he had run through the ancient woodland with my group and because of the way they handled it that he could see that young people could be rangers. Phoebe got the job and we all became Apprentice Rangers – a good damp day all round.

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Day 2 – creative workshops at Theatre Deli 

Day 2 began with our traditional game of Balle (a bigger version of foursquare) or Champ Square as we have begun to call it. We were welcoming back Tom Bowtell, who had directed The Droves, into the room and it had been 6 months since he had worked with The Young Coneys.

Together, we told Tom the story of Phoebe and Polesden Lacey, and explored the mechanics of the storytelling. We would be looking at different ways to tell stories this weekend and so taking the moment to reflect on yesterday was extremely important. The Young Coneys have grown so much since we made The Droves together and their understanding of telling stories has greatly improved. We discussed how Phoebe signed us up to help her as she had a problem, which we felt like we could only complete (especially because it was pouring down and we were the only ones helping her!) and so we were empowered to complete the story.

Our first exercise/game was a version of Grandmother’s Footsteps, where you have to get the keys. However, we played it with half the group as an audience watching so we could discuss what made a good story. This brought up discussions around characters and plot twists, as well the desire to win from some of the players.

Tom followed this by introducing the Young Coneys to the game of Werewolf/Mafia, which we would be playing all together to build a world and tell a story as one. It was a brilliant exercise, which they really took to and wanted to play again & again. When we replayed the game we developed the characters, looked at how we played the game well and, as players left the game to be the audience, how we can make the best story for our audience.

The final exercise for the day was a moment of them. I tasked the group with bringing one thing from themselves to share with the group in a ‘Show & Tell’. This could be sharing a skill you have or sharing a story from your life. Finding these moments to share allow the group to build up their performance skills and confidence in sharing with each other. These moments ranged from Rezel telling us about wanting to have a dog but their family being allergic to Izzy sharing how to roller skate; it was really enlightening and something we would come back to.

 

Day 3 – Sharing at Theatre Deli 

After the battle to be Champ, we set up the workshop for the day. We would be creating characters from the moments we had shared yesterday to make a world an audience could explore as a game of Mafia/Werewolf engulfed a fictional village.

We showed the group a model of the village square (little boxes with numbers on them) which would be the world they would be creating. Each box was the home of one of the characters, who had a specific role in the village. The characters were taken from the moments of themselves; we gave Rezel the pet shop owner, Izzy the roller skate teacher and Blessaide the Historian, after she gave us some local history on her primary school. These characters were then taken by the young people and developed into rounded characters that they were going to play as through the rest of the day. They took on character sheets before a hot seating session revealed the story of the village and relationships that filled it.

The wild imaginations of our group meant we discovered that the pet shop owner had a mysterious monster (which he claimed was nice) in his back room called the Caragga. The Caragga then became the centre of our story as slowly but surely, we found out everyone had a link to the Caragga. The circus owner wanted the Caragga for her show, the doctor was building an antidote to save people from the monster and the fortune teller had an intense love for cinnamon tea, the only thing that could make the monster go wild. Each had a problem they needed an audience to help them with; much like Phoebe the Apprentice Ranger.

After our village began to take shape we welcomed the parents for a sharing of what we had been looking at over the weekend and welcomed them to the village of Hairy Earlobe (their choice as a group!). The audience, a group of tourists in our game, had the opportunity to meet our characters and find out how they could help them with their problems – could they collect the ingredients that the doctor needed for the antidote before the Caragga struck at nighttime…No.

Unfortunately, murders came to the village of Hairy Earlobe, but who was guilty of releasing the Caragga? The tourists had the opportunity to ask the villagers questions and decide who they wanted to banish and send to be cryogenically frozen. A lot of debate and accusations meant that distrust rippled through the village of Hairy Earlobe. The doctor did get the ingredients for the antidote, but not before the Caragga turned on the tourists for a gruesome finale!

Every Young Coneys’ workshop and Magic Postal Service delivery is completely free, allowing kids from all backgrounds to take part and grow as part of this incredible group. This is thanks to the incredible generosity of our funders and Friends of Coney, whose donations go towards the costs of running these activities. 

If you’d like to support our work with young people, please consider becoming a Friend – everything you donate will be matched by Arts Council England’s Catalyst: Evolve scheme, and makes an incredible difference.

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